The last time we saw the Utes, they were being overwhelmed by Texas in the Alamo Bowl. This, after getting overwhelmed by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Those two losses are generally the lasting images, but they should not overshadow what was by and large a big season for the Utes, who started 11–1, won the Pac-12 South for the second year in a row and rose to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
From that 11–3, high-water-mark season, Utah will enter 2020 looking much different. Key players on both sides of the ball are gone, including an All-Pac-12 quarterback in Tyler Huntley, a legendary running back in Zack Moss and the program’s career sack leader in Bradlee Anae.
How well head coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff replace an abundance of key pieces will help determine whether or not Utah can again be a factor in the Pac-12 South race.
Previewing Utah's Offense for 2020
Before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled spring practice after three sessions, a quarterback competition between South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley and redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising was just underway.
Bentley committed to the Utes on Dec. 9, having started 33 games for the Gamecocks across four seasons. Rising has zero collegiate starts, but he does have the advantage of having spent a season working with Utes offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig after transferring from Texas. Early spring practices, before players are in full pads, need to be taken with a grain of salt, but Whittingham did say Rising looked better at the time.
Running back is another position where competition was ongoing, namely between junior Devin Brumfield and sophomore Jordan Wilmore. Junior TJ Green and incoming, multidimensional freshman Ty Jordan also figure to play roles.
The bad news for the offense is a need to find a quarterback and running back, but the good news is that there is no shortage of pass-catching options. All-Pac-12 tight end Brant Kuithe returns, as does slot receiver Britain Covey, who took a redshirt last season to fully recover from a knee injury suffered in the 2018 Pac-12 Championship Game against Washington.
There are veteran options on the outside but not a lot of game experience. Junior Solomon Enis is a downfield threat, as is classmate Bryan Thompson. Senior Samson Nacua should also be in the mix.
Previewing Utah's Defense for 2020
Utah’s defense was veteran-heavy, not to mention ferocious, in 2019, finishing in the top-6 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense.
Much of that defense is gone, with Whittingham and staff needing to replace nine starters. The defensive backfield offers the most glaring holes with junior cornerback Jaylon Johnson and junior nickel Javelin K. Guidry gone to the NFL.
Junior Bronson Boyd and sophomore JaTravis Broughton were the early favorites at each cornerback spot, but freshman Clark Phillips III was on campus for spring practice and was already in the mix to start. The highest-rated recruit in program history, Phillips could see time at cornerback, but nickel is his natural position.
Along the defensive line, Anae is gone at one defensive end spot, so junior Mika Tafua or senior Mufi Hill-Hunt hope to replace his production. Tafua was honorable mention All-Pac-12 at right end as a redshirt sophomore in 2019.
Redshirt junior linebacker Devin Lloyd returns to lead that group, which is devoid of much game experience. Lloyd had a team-high 91 tackles last season.
Previewing Utah's Specialists for 2020
Covey’s return as a redshirt junior is a boon for Utah’s return game. Covey was Utah’s leading receiver in 2015 and 2018 (he served a two-year LDS church mission in 2016 and 2017), but he was also an All-Pac-12 return specialist both years. In 2018 as a true sophomore, Covey averaged 8.8 yards per punt return on 25 tries.
Sophomore punter Ben Lennon netted 40.9 yards per punt on 44 attempts in 2019, while incumbent placekicker Jadon Redding was 10-for-13 on field-goal attempts with a long of 42 yards. BYU kicker Skyler Southam transferred to Utah in January but will likely have to sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
There is an abundance of question marks all over the field for Utah, but winning the Pac-12 South for a third straight season is not an entirely unreasonable expectation, especially if the Utes can figure out the quarterback situation.
The Utes’ two toughest Pac-12 games, Oct. 2 vs. USC and Oct. 17 vs. Washington, will both be at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which is helpful to their cause. Closing the regular season at Arizona State on Nov. 21 and at Colorado on Nov. 28 will provide difficult challenges. Early road tests at Cal on Sept. 26 and at Washington State on Oct. 10 also offer intrigue.
Utah generally does a good job of reloading on defense, and if the offensive questions get answered, then the Utes have a chance to get back to the doorstep of their first Rose Bowl.